12 Tactics to Help MENA SMEs Meet Employee Engagement Challenges in a Digitally Driven World

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During the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns, shifting to a remote working model was imperative for most companies, and many have since continued the practice as a wellness initiative. Ironically, there is an emerging concern over the socio-emotional issue of an isolated working style, and this is particularly true for new hires and expats living and working in their host countries in the MEA region, as they work in jobs (law, banking, architecture, or community service) that prohibit remote work from their home country.


A UN report indicates that in 2020, there were 35 million international migrants in the GCC region. More than 80% of the population of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, 70% in Kuwait and 55% in Bahrain are international migrants. Although much of the low-wage workforce left for their home countries, there were several tech-related jobs that required employees to work from home in their host country during the pandemic and beyond.

For companies embracing the digital way of working, it wasn’t just about providing the right home infrastructure or meeting technology challenges. It has a lot to do with solving problems related to people. It is now up to management to introduce work methods and policies that nurture the emotional connection between employees and their workplace and motivate them to remain committed to the company for the long term. Here are some recommendations on how to improve employee engagement in such scenarios:

1. Adopt the new working arrangements of four days a week In the United Arab Emirates, several private sector companies have followed the British working style and launched the four or four and a half day working week. Employees feel that the longer weekend invigorates and revitalizes them for the following week. It also allows them to catch up on any pending personal work, making them more focused on next week’s work. In fact, some HR experts claim that a shorter work week increases productivity and brings more benefits to the company and the employees.

2. Encourage hybrid configurations A hybrid work mode gives employees the best of both worlds: splitting their work at the office and at home, according to their convenience. What makes this template a great success is that it is not a rigid work style approach and can be easily modified to meet the needs of businesses, teams and employees. .

3. Increase productivity through digital interventions HR must create a culture that empowers and encourages employees to balance work and private life. It requires leaving archaic management practices behind and embracing a new mindset, which alone can create sustainable workplaces where employees feel engaged and satisfied.

4. Help set up physical workspaces HR should take a supportive approach by equipping remote workers with appropriate physical infrastructure from home and ensuring they have easy access to an organization’s digital resources. While providing a laptop and home internet connectivity is a basic requirement, productivity and collaboration are enhanced when companies invest in technologies such as cloud applications and collaboration software.

5. Foster a digital culture HR can play a key role in installing a digital culture within the company. Senior management having regular breakout rooms for team meetings and one-on-one discussions makes it easier to set micro-goals; a way to keep employees engaged.

6. Invest in learning and development (L&D) When HR invests in the learning and development of their employees, it is a move towards encouraging professional engagement. Another factor that contributes to employee engagement is constructive feedback, making it a healthy learning organization. Frequent team meetings, even if they’re online, give employees ongoing feedback that helps them continually improve their work.

Related: Alfii, a UAE-based tech startup, launches with a private beta program aimed at solving HR challenges for small businesses

7. Support social relationships HR should help reduce the sense of isolation employees feel by hosting regular online meetups and coffees. Management should be advised not to insist on long working hours which lead to health problems. Employees whose emotional connection to the organization is strengthened are more likely to stay with the organization longer.

8. Encourage office conversations HR should advise managers to keep response times to a minimum, as “being mute” leads to awkwardness in a remote work situation. Frequent check-ins and transparent conversations between managers and employees help employees feel included in what is happening within the organization.

9. Be more inclusive with new hires HR may try to bring new employees into the office to familiarize them with the office workspace. This will remove mental blocks created by lack of face-to-face time and socializing with co-workers.

10. Help employees find a work-life balance Finding a healthy work-life balance is harder than ever. Human resources (HR) can help employees achieve work-life balance by building a culture of mutual trust. They should create an open culture for learning, and even take “mistakes” into account. This will make employees more responsible and make them more engaged and fulfilled at work.

11. Encourage digital detoxes Sometimes it’s good to disengage from devices for a good digital detox. This gives employees a better perspective on work and life. For example, HR may advise employees not to check their work-related emails on weekends and holidays.

12. Offer psychological support HR can provide psychological support by running regular mental wellness programs. Encouraging an open culture where seniors talk about their battles with stress and burnout – and how to overcome these issues – really helps employees have similar experiences. Companies can create mental health toolkits that employees can access from anywhere, anytime.

More than anything, management must lead by example. Senior leaders should be role models and inspire others to follow suit. They should encourage the use of digital technologies for better performance and a better work-life balance. These supportive management approaches have proven to be constructive, as the primary motivation for employees to work and stay in a workplace is their work life experience, when they socialize with co-workers and feel engaged, even if it’s online.

In a remote work environment for expatriate workers living alone, HR can step in and help build emotional connections for better mental health and, of course, increased productivity. These HR interventions will not only boost employee engagement, but will also help companies overcome the crises shifting to a hybrid way of working and, of course, retain their expatriate employees longer.

Related: Putting People First: The Future of HR in “The New Normal”

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Post expires at 8:52am on Wednesday December 7th, 2022